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The Golden Age
70mm projection in London's West End

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in70mm.com
The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Mark Lyndon, LondonDate: 20.09.2019
This is the story of a Golden Age. An era of opulence, glamour, glitz and grandeur. It was the best of times. The technology that drove this epoch was of course, 70mm projection. London's West End was especially blessed with first run 70mm screenings in the most beautiful picture theatres, as they were described at that time. That special time ran from the late fifties to the end of the sixties and I was especially blessed to be part of it. 70mm was and is the gold standard of cinema, a standard which has yet to be equalled, let alone surpassed.

My 70mm odyssey began in The Royalty Theatre in Holborn, in the summer of 1961 where "Ben Hur" had just transferred from The Empire, Leicester Square. My father, who worked for the architects Ove Arup nearby, took me to see it. What a stroke of good fortune the refurbishment of the Empire, Leicester Square, was! The Royalty was an underground cinema, off the beaten track, which only added to the glamour and mystery. Seeing "Ben Hur" at the age of ten had a profound impact and I was hooked for life. I was to return to The Royalty in the mid sixties, to see "The Golden Head". The theatre had been beautifully redecorated in Cinerama red. Far more impressive than "The Golden Head", was the supporting short feature, "Fortress of Peace", filmed and presented in MCS 70. It marked an historic development in aerial cinematography. It was to lead to the greatest aerial sequence of them all, when the hills were alive with "The Sound of Music".

• Go to 70mm Film Presentations in London, England 1958 - 2019 by John Sharp

It is worth mentioning The Odeon Haymarket and witnessing a truly awe inspiring 70mm screening of "Barabbas", in the summer of 1962. The Odeon Haymarket, in contrast to the stupendous picture houses nearby, was architecturally a rather more modest affair. It was nevertheless an important West End venue for first run 70mm, here were first runs for "Taras Bulba", "Othello", "Is Paris Burning?", "Tchaikovsky" and quite a few more. The Dominion Theatre in Tottenham Court Road was the London Home of Todd-AO. An impressive, palatial venue, it did the greatest moving picture format proud. I saw "South Pacific" there in 1961. "Cleopatra" premiered there, followed by "The Sound of Music" and "STAR!". The Dominion was essentially a gold mine. Joshua Logan famously said that "South Pacific" recovered its entire budget from The Dominion alone. Sadly, Todd-AO has long since departed. Crossing the Tottenham Court Road in those days and you would find The Astoria, where Disney exhibited "Sleeping Beauty". My mother took me there, following the great success of "South Pacific". I was deeply impressed by the deeply curved screen, fronted by a swish and smart powder blue curtain.
 
More in 70mm reading:

70mm Film Presentations in London, England 1958 - 2019

"What's On" with Udo Heimansberg

70mm at the Odeon Leicester Sq, London

A collection of London's 7OMM Royal Premieres

Visiting 70MM Cinemas of London's West End, September 1990

Internet link:

 
The Coliseum is a major London landmark, designed by Matcham, the greatest theatre architect of the modern era in an uncompromisingly classical style. The Cinerama Single Lens 70mm process filled the colossal screen with a flawless print of "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World". The greatest comedy showcase of them all, it was directed by Stanley Kramer, famous for the most serious of serious dramas. "The Magnificent Showman" followed, with a magnificent score by Dimitri Tiomkin, starring John Wayne, The Magnificent Showman himself, ably assisted by the magnificent Claudia Cardinale. I returned to Matcham's mighty Coliseum to see "The Flaming Years", a Russian war drama in pristine Sovcolour and Soviet 70mm. John Huston's "The Bible ... In the Beginning" in Dimension 150, surprisingly enjoyable, was shown there, rather than in the much publicised, purpose built Odeon Marble Arch.

70mm arrived at The Casino with "The Greatest Story Ever Told". I had lost interest in religious subjects, but made it up to The Casino by revelling in "The Hallelujah Trail", "The Battle of the Bulge", "Khartoum" and "Grand Prix", before experiencing the daddy of them all, "2OO1: A Space Odyssey". I was to return to see it no less than three times in that summer of 1968, one time, with a respectable group of my fellow college students, in numbers, at least. Many years later, I took part in a BBC programme, featuring Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood. On being asked, I recalled my unshakeable conviction at the time, that nothing could ever surpass the triumph of this flawless masterpiece. The Casino, one of the finest examples of Art Deco architecture, graced with a magnificent, palatial lobby was the perfect setting for first run screenings of 70mm blockbusters. I was to return, one last time, to see Douglas Trumbull's "Silent Running". The rest was silence.

The Empire, Leicester Square, a much loved West End picture palace, was the venue of the first run of "Doctor Zhivago". I saw it there in 1966, in the middle of The Grand Circle. Here was truly epic cinema from one of the truly great masters of moving pictures, in 70mm, naturally. Although 70mm presentations continued through the 1970s and 1980s, in London's West End, the release of "Easy Rider", in 1969, somehow marked the end of The Golden Age. Years later, I was treated to a masterclass in film making by Peter Fonda, who starred in "Easy Rider". But that, is another story.
 
 
  
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Updated 17-10-19